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More impact fees proposed

Development in Spokane Valley would have to pay more for its burden on schools, police and fire service under a recent proposal by the Planning Commission.

“We needed to send a message to the City Council that this needs to be dealt with somehow,” said Commissioner Marcia Sands.

By state law, upgrades to roads and other infrastructure that offset a development’s impact must be in the works before the city can approve a project.

The commission added police, fire and school resources to the list of what the city would be required to consider before issuing building permits.

“Why develop something if you don’t have the infrastructure to support it?” asked Commissioner Fred Beaulac.

A 4-2 vote two weeks ago and Thursday’s approval of Title 22 of the city’s new development code places the requirements before the City Council, which ultimately will decide if they become law.

Even in their discussions directly following the split vote, planning commissioners asked a number of unresolved questions on how standards would be set to gauge when a planned development will have too much of an impact on local services.

“These are great things to support, but you really have to look at the logistics of it,” said commission Chairwoman Gail Kogle, who voted against the measure.

School district boundaries cross the city limits, and development in the city could be affected by other cities’ growth as well as the decisions of fire and school authorities outside of the city’s control.

“That concurrency gives any one of those districts the ability to shut down growth within the city of Spokane Valley,” said Commissioner David Crosby, a Realtor who is running for Spokane Valley City Council. Crosby added that the resulting fees on development would drive up housing prices without raising enough money to actually build any new schools.

Sands countered that she seriously questioned the effect the fees would have on someone’s ability to purchase a house and said that “part of homeownership is paying for the services you have.”

Commissioner Ian Robertson – who also serves on a committee to study space issues at Central Valley School District – said there are several other solutions to crowding besides a bond or letting school districts decide on service levels and development in parts of the city.

Of the three additions to the city’s requirements for concurrency, as it’s known by planners, school capacity would be most likely to result in fees or delayed projects.

Police service in Spokane Valley is handled through a contract with the Sheriff’s Office, which does not currently review new developments.

While the Spokane Valley Fire Department tailors its plans for new and relocated fire stations to keep up with growth, Chief Mike Thompson said he didn’t think his department would need the authority to stop a project in the foreseeable future because of its impact on fire resources.

Central Valley School District, though, has asked Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake to postpone or charge a $1,410 fee for projects within its boundaries since last year.

Letters commenting on new housing developments warn that the district expects it will reach its capacity during the 2008 - 2009 school year.

In the letters and in a separate request to the elected leaders of Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and Spokane County, the district has asked for impact fees to help build more schools.

A year and half after the district asked Spokane Valley to implement the fees on its behalf, the City Council has yet to set a date to discuss it.

Crosby has said he predicts the concurrency proposal also will be met with resistance when it reaches the council.

Mayor Diana Wilhite said she hadn’t polled her colleagues on it and was unsure how the council would vote on the issue.

“I’m sure we will have a lively discussion on it,” she said.